CINCINNATI — After a two-year struggle to maintain members, the Composites Institute has left the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and merged with the Composites Fabricators Association.
The union appears to be a last-ditch effort to please member companies by forming a stronger trade association to represent the composites industry.
``This will create a unified voice within the industry, and it's something a lot of our supporters wanted,'' said CFA President Fred Dierks, who is vice president of manufacturing, planning and logistics at Aqua Glass Corp. of Adamsville, Tenn.
``We were really forced into making this merger. A lot of members defected to CFA. It was better to organize under one group,'' said Jeff Martin, CI board member and president of Martin Pultrusion Group in Twinsburg, Ohio.
As of June 1, CI no longer will exist, and most of its subgroups will move under CFA's umbrella, according to a joint news release made available at CI's International Composites Exposition '99, May 10-12 in Cincinnati.
CI's Pultrusion Industry Council will merge with a similar group at CFA, the Pultrusion Growth Alliance. CI's Corrosion Resistant Products Council and the Fiberglass Gratings Manufacturing Council will transfer intact to CFA. CI's Market Development Alliance will become a stand-alone entity affiliated with CFA.
The Western Composites Institute, which had been a regional unit of CI, will remain with SPI, at least until after its Corrosion Construction Conference, set for Sept. 20-23 in Las Vegas.
CI Executive Director Catherine Randazzo will join SPI's Washington headquarters and continue as director of the Thermoforming Institute. CI's other two staffers, Conference and Trade Show Manager Peggy Stabach and Market Development Manager John Busel, will not remain with SPI, according to SPI spokeswoman Jennifer Dills.
Despite the loss of its largest business unit, SPI doesn't expect much to change.
``I think the major impact we will see from this we've already seen following the events of last spring, where we had some members leave to join the CFA,'' Dills said.
Some 10 of CI's 11 board members left the group in March 1998 and urged others to follow. But Dills said most remaining CI members also belong to other parts of SPI, and will remain members of the parent organization.
``What this really boils down to is there is an overriding concern that there be unity in the composites industry,'' Dills said. ``Clearly we think their interests could have been better served as part of SPI.''
CI currently claims a membership of more than 300, while CFA's ranks include about 800 firms. CI had its worst year in 1998 when the entire 25-member Sheet Molding Composites Automotive Alliance — now known as the Automotive Composites Alliance — left CI to join CFA.
SPI officials were not actively involved in the merger discussions between CI and CFA, Dills said.
Some composites companies expect to see a huge difference in representation.
``It's more efficient to have one big voice rather than two small voices,'' said Dave Tallbacka, senior material engineer at Zehrco Plastics Inc. of Ashtabula, Ohio.
CI and CFA also have offered competing trade shows. Owens Corning, a major supplier of glass fibers, boycotted CI's ICE show last year in Nashville, Tenn. The firm was joined this year by a number of significant no-shows on the exhibitors list for ICE '99.
On opening day of this year's ICE show, the aisles were virtually empty and the exhibit floor was quiet. Many company representatives were standing around chatting with one another instead of with prospective clients.
While the ICE show never was huge, it used to be 30-40 percent bigger, said Clinton Jackson, Zehrco's sales and marketing manager.
Many companies looked forward to seeing their competitors' new products and socializing with industry colleagues.
``Now, I don't know anybody,'' said James Maass, vice president of Durham, N.C.-based Reichhold.
Having two smaller trade shows diminished the possibilities of good leads for exhibitors because product users had to choose which show to attend, said Gerald Miller, an international sales representative for Bedford Reinforced Plastics Inc. of Bedford, Pa.
While the latest merger has been in discussion only for the past two months, two years ago CFA and CI had talked about forming a joint show called Composites 2000. But those plans were canceled last year.
Plastics News staff reporters Steve Toloken and Craig Urey contributed to this story.